George P. Matysek Jr. is the assistant managing editor of The Catholic Review in Baltimore.

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The Narthex

Bethlehem Brawl: So much for 'peace on Earth, goodwill toward men'

Clerics brawl with broomsticks at the site where Jesus is believed to have been born. (BBC image)

Two days after the world celebrated the birth of the Prince of Peace, things weren't so peaceful at the Bethlehem church built on what is believed to be the site of Jesus' nativity.

Brandishing brooms, 100 black-robed Greek Orthodox and Armenian clerics fought one another inside the Basilica of the Nativity after a dispute broke out during the cleaning of the church. Palestinian police broke up the fray.

Tensions have long been high at the 1,700-year-old church, as different Christian denominations continually squabble over the administration of the holy site.

The BBC has the story, along with the sad video here.

 

 

December 29, 2011 08:50
By George Matysek


Was Michele Bachmann threatened by an ex-nun?

Here's a story for the 'strange but true' file.  Rep. Michele Bachmann once claimed that an ex-nun was involved in holding Bachmann against her will.  From The Daily Beast:

In April 2005, Pamela Arnold wanted to talk to her state senator, Michele Bachmann, who was then running for Congress. A 46-year-old who worked at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design, Arnold lived with her partner, the famed Arctic explorer Ann Bancroft, on a farm in Scandia, Minnesota. Bachmann was then leading the fight against gay marriage in the state. She'd recently been in the news for hiding in the bushes to observe a gay rights rally at the Capitol. So when members of the Scandia gay community decided to attend one of Bachmann's constituent forums, Arnold, wanting to make herself visible to her representative, joined them.
Michele Bachmann anti-gay platform
Charlie Neibergall / AP Photo

A few dozen people showed up at the town hall for the April 9 event, and Bachmann greeted them warmly. But when, during the question and answer session, the topic turned to gay marriage, Bachmann ended the meeting 20 minutes early and rushed to the bathroom. Hoping to speak to her, Arnold and another middle-aged woman, a former nun, followed her. As Bachmann washed her hands and Arnold looked on, the ex-nun tried to talk to her about theology. Suddenly, after less than a minute, Bachmann let out a shriek. "Help!" she screamed. "Help! I'm being held against my will!"

Arnold, who is just over 5 feet tall, was stunned, and hurried to open the door. Bachmann bolted out and fled, crying, to an SUV outside. Then she called the police, saying, according to the police report, that she was "absolutely terrified and has never been that terrorized before as she had no idea what those two women were going to do to her." The Washington County attorney, however, declined to press charges, writing in a memo, "It seems clear from the statements given by both women that they simply wanted to discuss certain issues further with Ms. Bachmann."

The rest of the story touches on Bachmann's evangelical roots.  Check it out here.

June 17, 2011 07:24
By George Matysek


Pastor gets caught in tall tale

The Rev. Jim Moats, pastor of Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newvilleand, Pa., told his local newspaper a stirring story about his service as a Navy SEAL during the Vietnam War. An expert swimmer, he said he had been asked to sign up for one of the underwater demolition teams. He endured brutal physical training to become a SEAL - even undergoing waterboarding. The story was accompanied by a Stephen Colbertesque photo of the now 59-year-old former SEAL clutching a waving American flag.

There's just one problem. None of it was true. While he did serve in the Navy, Rev. Moats was never a SEAL and he never stepped foot in Vietnam. After the Patriot-News published his account, the newspaper began receiving e-mails questioning the story's authenticity. Rev. Moats recently came clean and admitted that he made it all up.

Rev. Jim Moats (Sean Simmers, Patriot-News Photo)

The Navy awards the gold Trident medal to those who have completed SEALs training and have earned the right to be called a SEAL.

The same gold Trident can be bought at a military surplus store, and that’s where the Rev. Jim Moats of Newville got his.

Moats was never a Navy SEAL — even though that’s what he told The Patriot-News on Friday, and that’s what Moats has allowed his congregation at Christian Bible Fellowship Church in Newville to believe for five years.

Moats came to the newspaper office and acknowledged in an interview Sunday that he never was offered SEALS training in the Navy and that he never was accepted into the program, let alone completed it. 

“I never was in a class, I never served as an actual SEAL. It was my dream. ... I don’t even know if I would have met the qualifications. I never knew what the qualifications were,” Moats said.

Several people emailed PennLive about Moats’ claim after the story was posted online.

Don Shipley, a retired SEAL who lives in Chesapeake, Va., said he is one of a few former SEALs who are entrusted by the Navy with maintaining the database containing the names of all SEALS. The database cannot be accessed by the public.

Moats was never a SEAL and never had set foot in Vietnam, Shipley said. The information can be verified through a Freedom of Information Act request from the Naval Special Warfare Command in San Diego, he said.

Shipley called Moats on Saturday night to confront him about the issue.

“We deal with these guys all the time, especially the clergy. It’s amazing how many of the clergy are involved in those lies to build that flock up,” Shipley said.

There's more here, including a video confession.

May 10, 2011 06:02
By George Matysek


Transgendered teacher takes on Catholic school district

Further evidence that we live in unusual times: A Catholic school district in Canada is in trouble for firing a transgendered teacher who intends to 'transition' from female to male.

Jan Buterman (CBC Photo)

A transgendered teacher fired by a Catholic school district is rejecting a settlement offer because it would require him to keep quiet and drop a human rights complaint.

Jan Buterman says he will proceed with his complaint against Greater St. Albert Catholic Schools, which wrote him a letter in 2008 praising his abilities but dismissing him for not being aligned with the values of the Catholic Church.

Buterman, who was a substitute teacher in St. Albert, just north of Edmonton, says the publicly funded school district can’t buy his silence with an offer of $78,000 cash or a one-year teaching job.

“I don’t want to be muzzled,” says Buterman, who has worked as a teacher elsewhere since he was fired. “They don’t want me to talk about the fact that they, as an employer, claiming authority from the Catholic Church, have discriminated against me because of my medical status as a transsexual person.”

Buterman says he expects the Catholic school board will ask the Alberta Human Rights Commission to dismiss his complaint. The commission has the right by law not to send a case to a hearing if a “fair and reasonable settlement” is offered.

David Keohane, superintendent of the Catholic school district, says the board has been working with the human rights commission to try to ensure the offer is seen as fair and reasonable.

Full story here.

April 10, 2011 01:52
By George Matysek


‘The greatest temptation of my life’

Dominican Father Carleton Parker Jones (CR/Owen Sweeney III)

Dominican Father Carleton Parker Jones calls it the “greatest temptation” of his life.

It happened 21 years ago in the library of the Anglican Centre in Rome, where Father Jones was completing research for his doctoral dissertation on Blessed John Henry Newman.

Blessed Newman, an Anglican priest who was received into the Catholic Church in 1845, was one of Father Jones’ greatest heroes. Inspired by Blessed Newman’s writings, Father Jones had followed in the Englishman’s footsteps – leaving the Anglican priesthood to become a Catholic priest in 1982.

Deep in the stacks of the acclaimed library, Father Jones pulled out a first-edition of Blessed Newman’s “On the Development of Christian Faith.” It was the very work that had most inspired Father Jones to become Catholic.

As soon as the Dominican opened the volume, a letter fell from its pages. Father Jones, then a student at Rome's Angelicum University, stooped down to pick it up. His eyes widened as he read the old letter and realized it was a hand-written, signed note from Blessed Newman to a reviewer who had written some kind words about his book.

No one was watching and no one knew the letter existed.

“I could have simply taken it and put it in my pocket and no one would have known the difference,” remembered Father Jones, now the pastor of Ss. Philip and James in Baltimore. “It’s not that I was looking to sell it and make a lot money. It was just that Newman had become so dear to me that it would have been a wonderful keepsake to have – a kind of relic.”

Father Jones stood still in the library for about a minute staring at the letter and thinking, “shall I or shan’t I?” The temptation was overwhelming.

“I can still feel it now,” the priest remembered. “I can feel the tingling in my spine as I looked at it. I wish I could have seen the expression on my face.”

Honesty triumphed and Father Jones turned the letter over to the librarian. He was rewarded with a gift of 10 books.

“I overcame the temptation by the grace of God,” Father Jones said. “I thought at the time, ‘If I steal this, it undermines all the graces I had received that brought me there.'”

Father Jones said it would have been ironic to steal something of the man who had led him into the church.

“Oh, but I struggled,” he said with a laugh. “I stood there looking at it – coveting it. I went through the whole thing!”

Click here to read about what Father Jones and the Dominicans are up to at Ss. Philip and James.

March 31, 2011 02:13
By George Matysek


Cardinal Keeler and the Psychic Reader

 

Cardinal William H. Keeler, master of the one-liner, meets with George P. Matysek Jr. (CR Staff/Owen Sweeney III)

During a March 2 testimonial at a special celebration of Cardinal William H. Keeler's upcoming 80th birthday, Richard Berndt told a story that demonstrated why friends know the retired archbishop as a master of the one-liner.

Speaking at the Center Club in Baltimore, Berndt recalled how he and the cardinal were walking back to the Catholic Center after a meeting with The Baltimore Sun in the late 1990s. Berndt, who was an attorney for the archdiocese, was discussing some difficult personnel matters with the cardinal as the two strolled by the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary.

Cardinal Keeler looked up and pointed to a sign on a small office building at the southeast corner of Mulberry and Cathedral streets.

"Psychic Reader Advisor - The Mystical Tarot," the sign proclaimed.

The cardinal told Berndt that the psychic advisor herself had come up to him on the street a few days earlier and introduced herself as a neighbor and a professional competitor. She told the leader of the Premier See that both of them were "in the same business."

Standing in front of the grand basilica, the cardinal looked at the psychic and deadpanned: "I think you have a lot less overhead."

"I went away happier for hearing him tell that little story," Berndt remembered with a laugh, "and thinking that Cardinal Keeler had room in his heart for every person - even lawyers and psychic readers."

Earlier this week, I had the honor of spending some time with Cardinal Keeler at his residence at Mercy Ridge Retirement Community in Timonium. I caught a glimpse of his humor near the end of an interview when I asked the cardinal if he missed the administrative work at the Catholic Center. Without skipping a beat, he replied with a confident "No!"

Then, he laughed -- and laughed hard.

For more on how the cardinal feels about becoming an octogenarian and what he's been up to in retirement, check out this story in The Catholic Review. Next week, we will have more on his birthday celebration. The cardinal's actual birthday is March 4.

Happy birthday, Your Eminence! 

March 03, 2011 08:02
By George Matysek


Mystery of George Washington's missing (and recovered) letter to Catholics

Part of a 1790 letter to Catholics written by President George Washington is shown in this photograph. The letter is housed in the archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore. (Courtesy Archdiocese of Baltimore)

In honor of President’s Day, tomorrow’s issue of The Catholic Review will feature an article on a very valuable letter housed in the archives of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.

Written to Catholics of the United States by President George Washington, the March 12, 1790 note was in response to an earlier message sent to the new president by Baltimore Bishop John Carroll on behalf of American Catholics. The bishop had congratulated the new leader on his election and asked him to promote religious freedom.

“I hope ever to see America among the foremost Nations in examples of Justice and Liberality,” Washington wrote in reply.

In researching the historic letter, I was surprised to learn that the precious artifact had gone missing for an unknown period of time early in the 20th century. Neither the current archivist nor her predecessor knew the circumstances of the departure. Not even Father Michael Roach, an esteemed professor of Church history at Mount St. Mary’s University Seminary in Emmitsburg, knew of the mystery.

According to a 1922 biography of Carroll, written by Peter Guilday, the letter had been housed until 1865 in the archives of what then was the Cathedral of the Assumption in Baltimore. It  was loaned to John Gilmary Shea, a layman, that same year before it was returned  Sept. 7, 1866.

Guilday wrote that the letter went missing in 1908. It’s not clear how long it was gone or when it was returned.

According to a 1916 article in the New York Times, the letter had last been kept in a “fireproof vault beneath the sanctuary of the cathedral." Archdiocesan leaders realized it had vanished as they were indexing the many thousands of historic documents at the time.

“The envelope which contained it, marked ‘Original Letter of G. Washington to Catholics U. States,’” is in its usual place,” the New York Times reported. “But it is empty. A thorough search is being made, for the loss is a matter of great concern.”

If anyone  knows more about the history of the missing and recovered letter, let me know.  I’d love to be able to unravel the mystery.

February 16, 2011 11:56
By George Matysek


Religous habits inspire fashion rage?

(Getty Images) A model walks the runway at the Wayne Fall 2011 fashion week during Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week at Milk Studios on February 10, 2011 in New York City.

Those who care about such things are abuzz that a modern fashion trend seems to be taking cues from some of the world's oldest forms of clothing - religious habits.  It's a bit ironic that garb that's supposed to serve as a reminder of the sacred is being co-opted by the secular.

Forbes has this report:

One of the biggest trends in the first days of New York Fashion Week: hoods. But not just the sensible head covers attached to parkas and other outerwear designed to protect one from the cold. Today’s designers have incorporated them into snug dresses, asymmetrical leather jackets and even catsuits, and they have a distinct clerical vibe.

The first hooded garments appeared on the Wayne runway, where they sometimes recalled monks’ robes or nuns’ habits. (This was no mere coincidence: Designer Wayne Lee was inspired by the religious paintings of Renaissance artist Hans Memling.) The theme continued at the threeASFOUR show, where musicians played slightly menacing atonal music shrouded in Jedi-knight robes, and the models, in hooded bodysuits, suspended parachute dresses and deconstructed pinstripe cloaks, looked as though they belonged to a religious cult (in the best possible way). Even Victoria Beckham channeled the Vatican with her glamorous collection this weekend. In addition to the stunning hooded magenta dress that opened the show, the former Spice Girl had her models sport those snug little caps that Catholic cardinals always wear. Pope Benedict — himself a natty dresser — would be proud.

The religious clergy has intermittently inspired fashion designers for decades. In the 1930s and ’40s the designer Valentina brought monastic chic to the masses, dressing her famous clientele (including Greta Garbo and Katherine Hepburn) in long-sleeved, severe dresses with peaked caps or snoods. (Valentina liked to say that she thought nuns the most stylish people on earth.)

More here.

February 14, 2011 06:22
By George Matysek


Monk caught with former nun's skeleton

Here's a very strange story out of Greece.

A monk, along with two other people, was arrested at the Eleftherios Venizelos airport in Athens, Greece after security personnel discovered the remains of a human body in their luggage as they tried to board a flight to Cyprus.

The remains of Eleni Vathiadou, a former nun, were stolen by the trio after a memorial service held by the woman's family at a local cemetery on Sunday to mark four years since her death, reports the Cyprus Mail.

"In my opinion this cleric should be punished; the situation is unacceptable, it is sacrilege," says Cyprus's Archbishop Chrysostomos.

The three claimed they did it because she was a saint, but the church leader suspects otherwise. "They are probably acts of quackery by some aiming to make financial gains. That is my suspicion."

Police spokesman Michalis Katsounotos says, "Our compatriots claimed that they dug up the remains because they considered the deceased a saint," reports the paper.

Vathiadou had once been a nun at a Cypriot monastery and was never officially declared a saint by the Cypriot or Greek Orthodox Churches.

More here

January 19, 2011 06:12
By George Matysek